Three million Americans are considered sensitive to sulfites by the Federal Drug Administration. Five percent of asthmatics must avoid sulfites according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some studies suggest that these estimates are significantly too low. Sulfites induce tissue swelling and cause breathing problems in asthmatics according to the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Asthma is on the rise as reported by the American Lung Association. And sulfur preservatives are everywhere as demonstrated by this book. These are the facts. How you interpret these facts depends upon your frame of mind, your source of income and your background. My interpretation is presented below. What about my bias? I am very sensitive to sulfites, my source of income is electronics and my training was at a technical college.
Prior to 1970, asthma rates were falling in the United States due in part to advances in medicine and a decline in smoking. Then asthma rates flattened and have risen ever since, even though medical advances continue and smoking is still declining. Obviously, a powerful asthma trigger or combination of triggers has worked its way into the American lifestyle. None of the known asthma triggers can be demonstrated to be both increasing and of sufficient scope to account for the rise in asthma rates among all ages and classes of Americans. None, except one: sulfites. For many good reasons, sodium sulfites and sulfur dioxide have become commonplace additives to our food supply. And, American food habits have aggravated the problem by turning toward the convenience foods that are most highly preserved. As a result, asthmatics are exposed to constant low levels of the oxides of sulfur which, for some, reduces their tolerance to asthma triggers. People not afflicted with asthma can suffer other auto-immune diseases that may be complicated by sulfite induced tissue swelling. I am such a person and I suffer from sulfite headaches. I am not talking about everyone. But, I am talking about millions of people.
If you are asthmatic, I suggest you take a look at sulfur preservatives. If you suffer from headaches that last for days, I urge you take a close look at sulfites. And, if you suffer from any auto-immune or allergic disease that is not under control, take a look at sulfur. It’s easy to reduce the sulfur dioxide content of your diet by simply avoiding a few foods. Look over the Common Foods Table in the chapter "Are You Sensitive?" Read food labels and avoid those listed in the Effective Sulfur Oxide Ingredient Table in the chapter titled "Knowing the Demons." Ask your doctor and, if your doctor agrees, avoid sulfur preservatives for a few weeks. If it helps, you will have made a tremendous discovery.
Nutrition labels are of great help for people with food intolerance, allergy and special dietary needs. Can you imagine trying to sort through the sulfite maze without the help of an ingredient list? Of course, the label could be improved. For instance, the listing for caramel color could be expanded to include the class. Caramel color is produced in four classes. Classes 1 and 3 are low in sulfites while 2 and 4 are high. When I see caramel color on a food label, I have to assume it is highly sulfited and I don’t buy. If the label said "sulfite-free caramel color", I would buy it. Are you listening manufacturers…you could increase sales.
I could also wish for the sulfur dioxide content to be printed right on the nutrition label. I know this is not going to happen, but I have to make the plea. The cost of printing sulfur dioxide numbers on the nutrition label would be moderate. Most manufacturers of food additives already track sulfur dioxide as part of the process and publish either maximum or typical specs. It would be a simple matter to add up the numbers for a recipe and print them on the label. The sulfur dioxide numbers could be used directly or they could be slightly reduced to better represent effective sulfur oxide as defined in this book. The most trouble would arise for products that used additives from different sources since this would increase quality control burdens. The burden aside, printing numbers on a label would put pressure on all manufacturers to reduce the oxides of sulfur to the lowest possible levels. If this reduced any portion of our 15 billion dollar asthma cost, it might be worth the effort.
If I were king, I would conduct a study of a group of asthma and headache sufferers. I would divide them into three categories depending on their triggers: sulfite, other and unknown. I would ask half the group to eat normally for one month and ask half to minimize their intake of sulfur preservatives. Then the groups could switch. Asthma and headache problems during these periods could be recorded and analyzed. If minimizing sulfur preservatives reduced overall asthma problems by just 1%, that could save 150 million dollars per year. A 10% asthma reduction could save 1.5 billion dollars. Similar reductions in headache problems could save up to 5 billion dollars. And, we haven't even touched upon quality of life issues. Yes, if I were king, I would definitely conduct a study of the effects of low level exposure to the oxides of sulfur.
Throughout this book, sulfites and sulfur dioxide are accused of heinous crimes: causing headaches, triggering asthma, creating mayhem. At times, I even refer to them as Sulfur Demons. Of course, there is nothing evil about sulfites. They are just chemicals. And, there is nothing sinister about the companies that produce or use sulfites. They are just trying to make the best products they can. For most of America, they do a great job. The food looks good, tastes great and lasts long enough to get from the field to your kitchen table. For people like me with an exaggerated metabolism, it’s just tough luck. I must be wise enough to know what to avoid, carry a remedy if needed and not get upset about it. There aren’t many real monsters out there, just people like you and me trying to get by the best we can. If you have questions about sulfites, I am happy to answer email from "email@example.com".